Tropic Sprockets / Spencer

By Ian Brockway

Pablo Larraín delivers a stirring portrait of Princess Diana in “Spencer.” In short evocative scenes, it shows a princess who bristles under pressure. Though it views as psychological horror and may alienate some viewers, its episodic details are full of intrigue and compel the eye. The acting by Kristen Stewart is the best of her career.

Diana (Stewart) quickly understands that her marriage is a formality, for appearances. Charles (Jack Farthing) loves Camilla. 

She constantly watches over her shoulder. To release steam, she takes a drive in her Porsche 911 as her court awaits tirelessly. Diana knows she is a marital figure head waiting to break out of her jeweled cubicle life. 

The tone and visual look of the film takes on the spirit of others like “The Tenant” and “Black Swan.” In the velvet hallways it is not long before Diana is treated like a royal beetle encrusted by aquamarine. Though a few might be put off by the dominant marriage-horror attitude complete with off-key stringed instruments as in Ari Aster’s “Hereditary,” there is enough here to keep the tension notched up.

In one scene, a bowl of vegetable bisque looks as forbidding as a William Friedkin shocker. The balls of flesh floating within resemble eyeballs. This soup-centered moment also brings to mind the recent horror film “Swallow.” Diana is bound and determined to swallow her silver pearls, the more painful the better. 

Even the moody candle-lit cinematography recalls films like “The Others” and “The Conjuring.” William (Jack Nielen) and Harry (Freddie Spry) are painted in shadow watched by malevolent spirits. It is only a matter of time before Diana flirts with madness, almost as fiercely as Jennifer Lawrence in “Mother!”

This is Kristen’s Stewart’s deepest role. Diana’s nervousness, her nonchalance and deadpan humor is well emphasized, especially in her body language and use of one liners. The Princess of Wales likes to run.

The great Sally Hawkins has another fine outing as Diana’s confidante, as does Timothy Spall, albeit in yet another painfully unsympathetic role as a royal guard.

This is truly Diana under duress. Curtains are stitched closed in what look like stomach sutures. She identifies with the pheasants that are shot and killed with the regularity of breathing, used for trivial scraps and tossed by the road, without a thought. 

After the horror, there are light skies and an 80s Pop song with William and Harry laughing in the Porsche. But as the road twists and winds, the engine roars, a dark ribbon of menace can be seen under a post-Christmas joy. The shape of things to come.

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